Rice Rice and More Rice
|Trying to learn how to cook (my kitchen in Bhutan)|
Jimmy can probably fit inside this bowl
So the first night that I had dinner with my principal and his family, we had rice and some amazing green bean curry that was mixed with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. As the guest of honor, they waited for me to serve myself first as they all watched me put what I thought was a lot of rice onto my plate (a cup or handful of rice.) After I was done serving myself, they looked horrified at my plate and asked me to please take some more rice. I thought, what? How could I possibly eat more rice than what I already have? I didn’t want to offend anyone so I took one more spoonful. They continued to stare at me like something was seriously wrong with me.
|Gigantic Rice Cookers|
It wasn’t until after they served themselves that I understood why they were telling me to take more rice and looking at me strangely; their entire plates were covered with rice to the point you couldn’t see their plates. Their plates looked like a gigantic, exploding rice volcano in comparison to my little anthill of rice. In addition, my proportion of food looked different from their proportion of food. Their plates were topped with just a few spoonfuls of curry while the majority of the serving was rice. On the other hand, my plate had a little fist full of rice with the majority of my food being the green bean curry. I thought, they probably think that I am so weird eating all this curry with hardly any rice. That’s why they are looking at me with scared and sad eyes. Holy moly how can anyone eat that much rice? As I struggled to finish my little side of rice, they took seconds and I was now the one staring at them in astonishment.
|Big Pot of Rice|
Then the next morning, I was surprised to discover that for breakfast we were having more rice. I thought that this was a little strange because I had never eaten rice for breakfast before and I would had never considered rice as a breakfast food. For the last twenty something years, for breakfast I have been eating fruit, oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, cereal, pancakes, toast, etc. but never rice. However, I was so grateful for not having to face my kitchen that needed to be unpacked and cleaned, that I ate the rice along with the left over curry from dinner. I was also so happy to see a fluffy egg on my plate that I ate it in one bite.
After breakfast, I wondered if every Bhutanese household was eating rice for breakfast or if it was just my principal’s and his family’s favorite food. Then I started to remember how I read that rice was Bhutanese main staple food, but I didn’t know if that meant they ate it for every meal. I also started to recall being told that Bhutanese people ate “a lot of rice,” but that phrase was too general for my imagination. I had envisioned “a lot of rice” as a couple cups of rice a day. Next, I pondered if this meant several cups for every single meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner? I was about to learn the answer to that question.
|This is a serving of rice for a small child|
The answer unfolded when lunchtime came around and I learned that we were having, you guessed it, more rice. That’s when I realized that Bhutanese people eat several cups of rice for every meal and that “to be Bhutanese, is to love rice.” However, at the time, I wasn’t so “Bhutanese” yet and I didn’t feel like eating any more rice. So when my principal’s wife asked me if I wanted to snack on some cereal while we were waiting for lunch to cook I said, “Yes please,” but deep down I was like “Cereal! Oh My God Yes!” I think that I unconsciously gorged on so much cereal so that I wouldn’t have any room for rice; by the time lunch was ready, I announced that I was too full and could only take a little rice. It seemed like they were looking at me with suspicious eyes wondering how I could eat so much cereal for lunch instead of rice.
Finally, when dinnertime approached and I saw the huge rice cooker filled with more rice, I was worried because my taste buds were screaming “Nooooooo more rice.” But of course I wanted to be respectful and I was feeling a little embarrassed that I couldn’t eat so much rice, so I painfully scooped the rice onto my plate as they all watched me while insisting to take more rice. As I hesitantly scooped the rice onto my plate, a thought popped into my head: You have to eat all this rice, every single scoop you put on your plate. Then I started to feel a little nauseas looking at the small pile of rice that covered my plate. All I can remember is my principal talking away while I was battling not to throw up as I shoveled each spoonful of rice into my mouth. I kept saying to myself, one more scoop, don’t throw up, pretend it tastes like chocolate, mmm yummy rice, oh no I’m going to throw up…
|My little rice cooker!|
My friends laugh
at how small it is
compared to theirs
Then one day the strangest thing happened; while I was teaching my stomach started to growl and I thought, errr I’m so hungry, I want rice. And life has never been the same ever since. In fact, I now crave rice more than any other food and all I want is a big bowl of rice the size of Mount Everest for every meal. Furthermore, I crave rice so much that I even dream about eating rice in my sleep. For example, one morning I was dreaming that I was eating a bottomless bowl of rice that made me feel like I was in heaven. Then, when I woke up, I immediately went straight to my rice cooker while I was still half asleep and started making rice for breakfast. Wow! Times have changed!
|I love to eat chili on my rice. YUMMY!|
Left: Ema Datshi (Chili and Cheese)
|My favorite: Desi Rice|
Furthermore, I have become like a typical Bhutanese person when it comes to eating rice. Just the thought of rice makes me salivate, especially red rice topped with spoonfuls of ezay/chili (ezay is my best-friend and it deserves its own blog entry). However, my biggest weakness is desi rice (sweet yellow rice with raisons, saffron and butter), which is served only on special occasions. I always lose track of how many bowls of desi rice I can eat because it is so delicious. Nevertheless, I don’t discriminate against any type of rice; I love white rice, rice with maize, long grain rice, etc. I even take rice for snacks, such as zaw (hard fried rice) in my tea. My Bhutanese friends and principal laugh at how much rice I can now consume, which is sometimes more than them. They proudly say that I am now like a Bhutanese person by the way I can feast on rice and eat it with my hands. I have learned how to roll the rice into tight balls with my fingers as well as my other favorite technique of scrunching it with my fingers into a sloppy ball shape and then dropping it into my mouth. My friends claim that eating with your hands makes the food taste better. I personally find it to be fun!
|My Favorite: Red Rice|
|My serving of rice now with ezay!|
|My serving of rice|
when I first moved to Bhutan